ie9_logo.jpgMicrosoft's (news, site) latest browser is now official for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users, while Firefox 4's final test is publically available.

Just Browsing

Microsoft's newest browser launched this week, but only for Windows 7 or Vista users, leaving millions of XP users with IE8 or lower. While its arrival is hardly likely to entice holdouts to upgrade, it offers several steps up in performance, compatibility and playing nicer with new standards, even if not by Microsoft's design.

For example, while there is hardly the fanfare that met with previous IE launches, three is still plenty of activity around the periphery of the browser. Google has already released a VP8 video plug-in to bypass Microsoft's own H.264 codec. AMD has also announced that its CPU and video processors can handle the workload of decoding HTML 5 tasks that are too intensive for the software. Intel's doing a similar job -- ensuring proper Web 2.0 performance for users.

Pinned Sites can be launched from the desktop

Exploring Austin

The official launch took place at SXSW, which was far more interested in the usual mobile and social apps, but it was cool of Microsoft to make the effort. Among the new features are a sleeker interface, Microsoft's clumsy attempts at improved privacy with Tracking Protection Lists and more practical features such as site pinning to the desktop and the ability to search from within the address bar, all covered in our beta news last month.

Firefox 4, coming very soon

However, while Microsoft has been polishing its latest opus, arch-rival Firefox hasn't been sitting still, with the latest public preview Release Candidate version out last week. With the ability to sync your favorites, history and passwords between devices, Firefox is playing the broadbased user game well.

It is also claiming chart-busting speed improvements and HTML 5 performance, but for real-world users, as long as pages open okay and content works, we think this is more of a marketing battle than of interest to users. There is a lot of extra kit lurking in the new Firefox, which we'll cover soon, but for Windows XP, Linux and Mac users it offers accelerated browsing, is available now and has similar if not greater levels of improvement as IE9.

With Google's Chrome coming on strong and new players such as RockMelt trying to do things a bit differently with its social theme, browsing is suddenly getting interesting again.